Successful surveillance career

Surveillance: getting on the circuit

30th June 2012 Surveillance 2 Comments

Successful Surveillance Career

So then, you have attended and passed a surveillance training course or maybe you have a formal background and have just left the service but just how do you get on the commercial surveillance circuit? It is just not as simple as having a great background! Where do you start? What is the pay like? Is there much work out there? What sort of work is common on the commercial circuit? What should you be investing in? What will give you the edge and ensure that you have a successful surveillance career?

Of all of these questions the two that I am asked most by the students attending our surveillance training courses are:

  • what is the rate of pay
  • how much work is out there?

Surveillance – how much?

I always endeavour to answer this although the answer often disappoints but maybe not for the reason that you might expect! The fees that you can charge for surveillance vary, just like they do for Close Protection, Private Investigations, engineering, bricklaying , painting, decorating, gardening and most other types of work and this depends on many factors, some of which I have listed below:

  • how close you are to the client
  • your skill level
  • reputation/success rates
  • who the client is
  • background, previous training
  • your network
  • budgets and more

Direct to the client?

This has a huge impact on what you may earn from a surveillance job. If you are direct to the client then you can expect to earn considerably more than if you are sub-contracting through someone else…..sometimes the chain with regards to this can be several people/companies long with each one wanting a profit of some sort and you guessed it, the guy at the end of the chain will often have slim pickings!

Skill level

Just like any other industry if your skill level is above that of others then you are likely to be able to charge yourself out at a premium rate but just how is this judged? People with formal backgrounds are often said to have a greater skill level than those without due to their level of training and the circumstances in which they have operated and in part i’d agree with this but, as ever, there are caveats. Some people with formal training and operations behind them just do not make the transition in to the commercial environment as well as others and this quite obviously impacts on their performance.

Maybe you have a particular skill, say technical surveillance that warrants you being able to charge your clients top dollar…..this is not at all un-common. Perhaps, like Lateo Surveillance you have established yourself because of your level of service delivery and can now select your clientele rather than have them select you?


This is critical for surveillance operators. A good reputation will lead to more opportunities, a poor reputation will lead you to a road to nowhere!

Getting a good rep?

Good reputations are hard won and easily lost.

  • Get results
  • Be ethical
  • Be honest
  • Be flexible and adaptable
  • Be reasonable

Getting a bad rep?

It is actually far easier to get a bad reputation than a good one, so be careful.

Lie and that is it, lying covers a huge swathe of areas.

  • Leave a job early but tell fibs about this… will get caught out and that will be it
  • Do not turn up at all…..unless you produce a body bag, excuses will not be tolerated!
  • Unethical conduct on task……do not do it, ever!
  • Go elsewhere for more money….a really poor tactic. If you are booked then follow through with it, jumping ship will come back to haunt you
  • Poach clients/carding…..some will argue that this cam be worth it….make your choice, not something that I would consider. Loyalty is everything to me.

The reality of all this…..

Above all, even if you do not care, consider the impact that your lying may have on the person that has given you the job, on their business, their employees, their clients and the industry and so on. A bit of moral fibre is all that is required here… what you have been instructed to do, do it to the best of your ability, go over and beyond what has been asked and you will be ok. I tend to under promise and over deliver. I try my very best to make things happen, people want results not whinging.


It goes without saying that the ‘better’ your client the better the renumeration is likely to be but there is much to consider when levying a fee. People often talk of margins and it is important to consider these. Think about the job before you quote for it. What needs doing, how are you going to do it, what is it going to cost….once you know this you can then build in your margins and of course do a little aiming off. However, make your margin too big and the client will cancel the job as it has become cost prohibitive then nobody wins. Make them too small and you end up working very hard for very little. I’ve had a foot in both camps at one stage or anther and neither is any fun!


Sub-contractors, oh sub-contractors…….the tussle’s I’ve had with you guys over the years. Let me just say this… the victor go the spoils! When submitting your fee for a job on to which you are sub-contracting consider the following points:

  • what the contractor has gone through (financially) to get the job
  • longevity of the task
  • what you bring to the table
  • likelihood of further work from the POC

Sub-contractors that do not deliver, moan, are greedy and whinge do not get used again. Bust, full-stop, end of. On the flip side, proactive, keen, positive, result driven guys who are reasonable with their fees get used time and time again, get recommended to others, grow their reputation and benefit on a long term basis.

It is an easy decision to make isn’t it?


Ok, so i’m always beating this particular drum so i’ll keep it simple……no network, no work. Make a good impression on people at every phase and your network will grow exponentially.


All jobs have a budget and you must do the best that you can within the budget. If a comprehensive reconnaissance is carried out then the budget should be realistic. Obviously, situations develop and this may cause a rethink but if this happens on every job then your reputation will go down hill and the work will dry up. Some jobs will just be cost prohibitive from the off and as such will never get off the ground. This is the reality of the business, expect it and accept it.

Ex Forces?

I just want to make this clear right now, being ex military does not give you a divine right to get on the circuit or be good at surveillance. It does not matter if you did 26 years in the Women’s 2nd Auxiliary Balloon Corps, or the some other ‘special’ regiment. By the same rationale, some of the very best that I have worked with have been civilians with no no formal background at all. You will meet people that will tell you what they have done ‘back in the day’ and how good they were, how hard their selection was and all of this is to be respected, however, let’s get on the ground today and produce the goods. Being good last week is totally irrelevant so let’s move on.


In short, the surveillance circuit is open to anyone but at the same time it will only suit certain types. Everyone will be capable of reaching a certain level, some will be more talented than others and it is not always the most talented that succeed the most. My advice would be to get a mentor, be humble, be grateful, invest in some good equipment and take everyday as a learning day – I do not care who you are, we are all at different stages of training  as far as surveillance goes.

Standby, standby! 

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About the Author

Nick McCarthy

Nick McCarthy is a former Parachute Regiment soldier who has been operating in the commercial security environment since 2004. Nick has undertaken tasks in the UK and overseas both as part of a team and as a single operator. Having worked for some of the most significant risk management companies in the UK he has taken part in and led numerous complex and sensitive surveillance tasks. He has worked directly and indirectly for UK Police Forces, Councils, Housing Associations, Blue Chip companies and HNWI. In addition to his operational portfolio he has also been an integral part of Argus Europe, one of the leading Close Protection, Surveillance and Investigations training companies since 2005. He is fully understanding of the need for the operating and training cycle to be maintained. Nick is a blogger and author having penned the The Service Leavers' Guide with a friend and colleague.

  • Thomo

    1st July 2012 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    Some words of wisdom – Ignore them at your peril! Word really does spread like wild fire within the industry, i’d rather use and work with average honest John than all singing, all dancing fly boy Ron.

  • Ali

    5th July 2012 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    very thorough and well explained .

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